Lake Louise – RV Travels to the Heart of the Rockies in Banff

May 2016 – Banff National Park is the heart of the Canadian Rockies, and Lake Louise is at the very center of that heart. After we took our RV through the wonderful mountain scenery of Kootenay National Park, our appetites had been whetted by all the gorgeous snowcapped peaks rising up in the distance, and we were ready to slow down and see them up close. Lake Louise was the ideal spot.

Lake Louise dawn Banff National Park Alberta Canada-2

Dawn at Lake Louise in Banff National Park

Lake Louise is a turquoise lake tucked into a circle of snowcapped mountains, and at dawn we found the water was glassy smooth and utterly clear.

Lake Louise Banff National Park Canada

Lake Louise

This is a top tourist destination, and from just after sunrise until well after dark it is loaded to the gills with people from all over the world. But during the pre-dawn hours of quiet mornings in mid-May, we found ourselves sharing the lake with just a few other people, all with cameras aimed across the lake.

Dawn Lake Louise Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Crystal clear water and mirrored reflections at Lake Louise

The early morning rays of sun cast a pink and orange glow on the snow covered peaks in the distance. The air was calm, and the few people down at the lake were silent as they gazed across the water. When we spoke, we whispered. There was a special, intimate aura among us all, an acknowledgement that this was a unique moment we would all remember.

Lake Louise Dawn Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Sunrise at Lake Louise

Just a few steps behind us, the enormous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel rose up to towering heights, and slowly came to life.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel Alberta Canada

The Farirmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel

Hotel guests made their way down to the water’s edge to join us admiring the lake. Soon, tourists began to descend on the shore by the dozens. Our magical few minutes of privacy with the sunrise by the lake had passed.

Not long after, the tourist buses began to arrive, disgorging fifty selfie-stick wielding tourists at a whack. We left the shore and wandered inside the hotel to explore its luxurious and posh interior.

Lake Louise Fairmont Chateau Hotel interior

The elegant lobby of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

This is an elegant hotel with a beautiful dining room that overlooks the lake. What a spot for a meal!

Lake Louise Fairmont Chateau fine dining

Fine dining right on the lake at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Lake Louise is best enjoyed outdoors, though, and there are lots of bright red kayaks for rent at the boat dock. One by one, kayakers paddled out onto the lake.

Kayak on Lake Louise Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Kayaking on the lake

We followed the shoreline trail for a ways, with one eye on the path in front of us and the other peering between the trees at the shockingly bright turquoise water.

Lake Louise Pine Trees Banff National Park Canada

Vivid turquoise water on Lake Louise

Turquoise Lake Louise Banff National Park

Is it real?!

Lake Louise Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Have a seat and soak in the beauty of this place!

Dandelions were in full bloom and filled a hillside. Whoever thought dandelions could add so much to a scene?!

Lake Louise Dandelions and jade water Banff National Park

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Lake Louise was first explored by Swiss mountaineers, and it soon became a tourist destination. Two tea houses were built up in the hills as destinations for hikers where they could get a yummy bite to eat and have a place to hike to besides just “the top.”

We took the trail that heads to the Lake Agnes Tea House, and it climbed steadily for quite a ways.

Lake Agnes Tea House Trail Banff National Park Canada

The mountain views intensified on the hiking trail to the Lake Agnes Tea House

The mountain peaks were breathtaking — and the trail got us huffing and puffing and out of breath too!

Canadian Rockies Lake Agnes Tea House Hike Banff National Park

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Eventually, we came to a small lake. Mark climbed up on a pair of stumps for a better view.

Stump man Lake Louise Banff National Park Canada

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Some other hikers came along behind us and got our pic leaning against these stumps. Even though it was the off-season and it was a cold, gray day, there were a lot of hikers on the trail. I can only imagine how busy this trail must be on a gorgeous, sunny day in July!

Selfie Lake Agnes Banff National Park Canada

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Just a little further on we came to Lake Agnes. There was still a lot of ice on the water, but the edges near the trail on the shore were crystal clear.

Lake Agnes Banff National Park Canada

Lake Agnes was still partially covered in ice.

Apparently, the Lake Agnes Tea House is extremely popular when it opens in the summertime. The workers who staff it stay there during the work week and hike down to the Lake Louise village on their days off (or do more adventurous hikes into the mountains starting from the Lake Agnes Tea House).

Ice on Lake Agnes Banff National Park Canada

Thin veils of ice cover the rich aqua hues of Lake Agnes

Many of the goods for the restaurant are brought up by horses and wagons on a different trail, but a lot of the provisioning is done by workers who hike up and down this steep trail carrying heavy loads alongside the tourists.

Lake Agnes Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Lake Agnes

Happy Hikers Lake Agnes Tea House Trail Banff National Park Canada

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The wildlife stays on the mountain year round, of course, and a chipmunk came over to see if we’d carried up a snack for him.

Chipmunk at Lake Louise Alberta Canada

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The Lake Agnes Tea House wasn’t going to open for another two weeks when we were there, but the hike was still really enjoyable.

Lake Agnes Tea House at Lake Louise Alberta Canada

The Lake Agnes Tea House – Not open quite yet. Darn!

A cup of hot tea at the Tea House would have been very welcome. After we’d been up there tip-toeing around the ice and snow and taking photos for a while, I was chilled to the bone. And then it began to drizzle!

Freezing cold at Lake Agnes Banff National Park

A hot tea would be nice right about now!

We’ve heard the baked goodies that come out of the Lake Agnes Tea House kitchen are very tasty. But we made do with our water bottles and protein bars in our packs. Sigh.

The amazing thing about Lake Louise is that after you look at it for a while, you get used to the stunningly vivid turquoise color. But each time you look away and then look back again, your jaw drops. And so it happened as we hiked back down to the lake.

Lake Louise Glimpse Banff National Park Canada

Lake Louise jumps out at us through the trees.

Lake Louise Rain Banff National Park Canada

The jade hues glowed as rain flattened the water.

The trees opened up as we neared the lake and the incredible color was right there in front of us once again.

Lake Louise Banff National Park Alberta Canada

The vivid colors of Lake Louise are stunning.

We returned to the shoreline of Lake Louise at dawn and at dusk several times and saw the lake in both sunshine and rain. Each time the beauty of the whole area caught us off guard.

Lake Louise Reflections Banff National Park Alberta Canada

Dawn at Lake Louise is a special time, and we enjoyed taking photos down at the shore
(see Mark down there with his tripod?!).

It didn’t matter if we were sharing the lake with two hundred other awe-struck tourists or with just two or three other photographers who were as determined as we were to capture its beauty on camera, this place was incredible.

Lake Louise Dusk Banff National Park Alberta Canada

What a place!

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Lake Louise RV & Camping Info

For RVers heading to Lake Louise, there is a National Park campground next to the village that is fairly big rig friendly and has electric and water hookups as well as slightly lower pricing for dry camping in those same sites if you choose not to plug in.

Most of the campsites are surrounded by trees, so RVs with solar power may not get much sunshine. The campsites are all double-wide with two rigs sharing a single pull-through, coming from opposite directions, with power pedestals on the outsides (it can be a tight squeeze between neighbors).

During the off-season, payment is made at a self-pay kiosk at the entrance (American credit cards accepted, just write the number on the envelope), however during high season the entrance booth is manned.

For the few weeks in mid to late May that we were there, the campground was less than half full every weeknight, and almost every RV had a double-wide site to itself. On the weekends it was busier. May Long Weekend (Victoria Day), the weekend before America’s Memorial Day, it promised to be packed with visitors from nearby Calgary, but cold rain kept them away this year.

Virtually all of the RVs we saw were rental units. Later in the season, reservations are a must, and the campground is full every night. Once the kids are out of school in late June, the RV fleet becomes a mix of personally owned family RVs and rental units.

There is a dump station that is the biggest RV dump station we have ever seen anywhere, with six stations lined up side by side!

RV dump station Lake Louise Campground Alberta Canada

Six RVs were using the dump station at once when we were there, and one was in line waiting…in the off-season!!

Lake Louise Village is essentially a strip mall with a handful of boutique tourist shops. There is a grocery store that caters to the young, hip, hiking crowd, offering all the fancy gourmet goodies you might long for at prices that are significantly north of their normally high costs. So, for the budget conscious, get provisioned up before you arrive.

May weather is very unpredictable. During our stay we saw highs ranging from the high 40’s (Fahrenheit) to the low 80’s and lows as low as the low 20’s. We saw sleet, snow, rain, and beautiful bright warm sunshine too.

Lake Louise Village Alberta Canada

Lake Louise Village

Many, if not most, of the hiking trails were closed in the pre-season due to avalanche activity, and some of the roads were closed too. However, the trade-off was that the crowds were manageable and we could always find a place to park and a place to put our tripod for a photo, something we’ve heard can be challenging during the warmer and more popular midsummer months of July and August.

More info and links below and more Canadian Rockies blog posts coming soon!

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8 thoughts on “Lake Louise – RV Travels to the Heart of the Rockies in Banff

  1. Wow. Just Wow. This goes straight to our bucket list. We’ve heard about Banff before but in a general way and with no mention of Lake Louise… Thanks for that fantastic, mouth-watering report.

  2. Words probably wouldn’t do it justice!…..breathtaking comes to mind!….what are the temps during the day and night?
    You guys must be getting good use of your heater?

    • Breathtaking is a perfect word for this area, Curt. We’ve been using our heater pretty much every day, and on some really dismal rainy cold days, when we stayed home, we ran it all day. As I mentioned in the article, daytime highs ranged from high 40’s to low 80’s and lows dipped as low as the 20’s. Brrrr!!!!

  3. This is just absolutely spectacular—even more than I imagined. Do you think June would be a good time to explore this area? We would love to be there when the trails are open (and the teahouse :-)) but still would like to avoid the crowds. Thank you so much for these wonderful posts!

    • I think it’s all just a trade-off. The closer you are to peak season, the bigger the crowds, and the crowds are very significant. June would probably be a great time but would definitely be more crowded than May. There’s a second tea house that is a longer hike that a lot fewer people go to called Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House and apparently it is a spectacular hike, so it is well worth waiting until that opens (we will on our next visit).

  4. Living in Vancouver, BC, the Rockies are almost in our backyard. Most locals think of the Rockies as an inexpensive vacation as in “we don’t have alot of money for vacation, let’s go to the Rockies”. It wasn’t until we were doing a free guided walking tour of Jasper and found out where the other participants were from that we realized how internationally recognized the Canadian Rockies are and how far people had travelled to see them. The Rockies are always breathtaking and you can never go wrong visiting them. Your photos are as always, wonderful and capture their scenic beauty.

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